Monday Tip-Off: A Suggestion for Modding, Moving Forward

Enhancements to in-game creation tools would help with modding.

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with a suggestion for our approach to modding, as look ahead to future releases.

Recently, I’ve written a couple of articles that have taken a look at how modding has changed, and some of the biggest developments that have helped the modding community to grow and thrive. Aside from reflecting on the past and talking about noteworthy milestones, both articles have also had an eye towards the future of modding. In that regard, I believe there is inspiration to be found, as well as a few important lessons that can be learned, when it comes to the history of our modding community. A little perspective and reflection can help us as we look to move forward.

There’s no guarantee that future NBA 2K games will be as moddable as releases on the previous generation, or that NBA Live will return to the PC platform. Even if either of those scenarios is actually feasible, there’s a strong likelihood that it won’t happen with this year’s releases. With that in mind, I think it’s important that we prepare ourselves for the possibility that we’ll be facing the same challenges and limitations that have presented themselves in the past couple of years, and be ready to work around them as best as possible. In particular, there’s one suggestion that I believe we should keep in mind.

First of all, let’s acknowledge some of the challenges that the modding community currently faces with NBA 2K PC. The rosters aren’t as easy to externally manipulate, mainly because we’re working with different tools (some of which need to be translated from Chinese). We also can’t share roster files via the “traditional” method as the presence of microtransactions ties the game to Steam, resulting in saves that are encrypted and user-locked. Game files are stored in archives, rather than being loose in the game folder where they can be easily overwritten. Although modding has picked up significantly with NBA 2K17, the output is still lower than it once was.

Editing Hassan Whiteside in NBA 2K17

It’s understandable why the modding community would feel discouraged, especially when mods like the Ultimate Base Roster and U R Basketball are seemingly unfeasible, or at the very least, far more difficult and cumbersome to make than they used to be. On the bright side, the in-game player editing and creation tools are reasonably deep, at least in terms of the attributes we can access. Texture and model updates aren’t beyond the capabilities of our talented modding community, and thanks to the External File Plugin, mod users don’t need to worry about messing around with the archive files. There are challenges and obstacles, but modding is still possible.

Over many years of having very moddable NBA Live and NBA 2K games, we’ve grown accustomed to being able to modify them with greater ease and fewer restrictions compared to the last few releases. As I’ve discussed in previous articles however, we were a lot more restricted in what we could do in the early days of modding NBA Live on PC. We had to work around those limitations as best we could and make the most of what was possible, as we sought to update the games and create brand new experiences. It’s something that I think we should keep in mind as we look ahead to modding future games.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that it’s a step back from what we’re accustomed to and what we want to do, and that’s frustrating. I also believe that we should continue to express our interest in a more moddable game, and better in-game customisation tools. Furthermore, we should absolutely continue trying to find workarounds to the limitations we face, developing new tools and modding techniques. However, while we’re advocating for a more customisable game and doing our best to overcome the limitations to find a way to do all the things we used to, there’s wisdom in accepting those limitations in the short term, and doing the best that we can regardless.

This means accepting some imperfections with an eye towards fixing them later, if and when that’s possible. I’ll refer to Lutz’s old Legends and Champs rosters for NBA Live here. Those mods didn’t utilise era-specific jerseys, logos, or courts for the historical teams, and players had created appearances rather than proper face textures. However, we appreciated the efforts and loved those rosters all the same, because they still changed up the gaming experience with new content. Going back to the earliest roster updates, it was understood that some players would have missing or incorrect portraits, because there were limitations on roster modding.

Lutz's Champs Roster for NBA Live 99

Now, modding has come a long way, and with more collaborative efforts becoming commonplace over the years, it’s easier to make comprehensive mods that are as accurate as possible to the last detail. As I said before, we definitely shouldn’t stop trying to find ways to overcome limitations when they present themselves. However, it’s also important that we don’t let those limitations discourage us from doing all that we can until a workaround is devised, since we can always go back and enhance a previous release with newly acquired knowledge and resources. It’s perfectly fine if a mod does the best it can, or if version 1.0 still has room for improvement.

To that end, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t just apply to limitations on what can be done, but also the assets that are currently available. For example, if you’re making a roster and you’re short a few faces for newly added players, generic lookalikes or created appearances are preferable to an indefinite delay or complete cancellation. The same goes for team artwork; those are details that can be added later, if and when those assets are created. When the bulk of the mod is in a completed state and provides the experience it sets out to deliver, then a couple of inaccuracies that can be fixed in subsequent updates shouldn’t torpedo its release.

The problem here is that we’ve grown accustomed to projects that don’t come out until they’re more or less completely finished. While it’s great to take pride in your work and do the best job possible, it also means our modding community holds itself to what is arguably an unfair standard. In wanting to live up to expectations, we’re sometimes too hesitant about releasing incremental updates, or “demo” versions of mods. As I’ve said before, in hindsight that probably added to my burnout on making the NLSC roster updates. I was too hung up on the idea of making sure no players were missing from offseason releases, rather than adding new rookies in batches.

In summary, my suggestion is this. We should make the most of what we can do, given the tools, assets, and limitations that we’re working with. A few things may have to change (or be discovered) before we can make some of the projects that we used to, but we can and should do our best to come as close as possible in the meantime. We can always go back and update a mod once we have the capability or assets to do so, so let’s not hold back or throw up our hands in defeat just because we can’t accomplish everything we want in version 1.0. We just have to roll up our sleeves, do the best we can, and then see what else can be done after that.

Charles Barkley on the 1993 Suns in the Ultimate Base Roster for NBA 2K14

This does obviously mean a slight shift in attitude and expectations for both modders and mod users alike, but I do believe it will ultimately benefit the modding community moving forward. It is frustrating to have to take a step backwards when modding has come so far, but remember: we once enjoyed playing with a Michael Jordan in NBA Live 95 that generally used either Jud Buechler or Larry Krystkowiak’s portrait. The overall result and experience will often outweigh annoyance with the imperfections, and we can always keep striving to overcome limitations as best we can. It’s alright to give ourselves a break here and there.

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